Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Nice pays, winners don't punish.

An essential premise of this blog is that leadership does not need to include fist-pumping tirades, clipboard smashing halftime speeches, or shout in your face style of motivation. In fact, 21st century leadership should be based on authenticity, maturity, vision, learning and, in general, being nice.

I have written previously about the benefits of nice. Stronger community and effective collaboration are based on simple acts like gratitude and trust. We want to associate with nice people and communities built on niceness feel better suited for collaboration.

Some leaders might say that leadership and nice are incompatible. Nice is the Rodney Dangerfield element of leadership. The authors of the book, The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness state the perception very clearly when they write:
..nice has an image problem. Nice gets no respect. To be labeled “nice” usually means the other person has little else positive to say about you. To be nice is to be considered Pollyanna and passive, wimpy, and Milquetoast. Let us be clear: Nice is not naive. Nice does not mean smiling blandly while others walk all over you. Nice does not mean being a doormat. In fact, we would argue that nice is the toughest four-letter word you’ll ever hear. It means moving forward with the clear-eyed confidence that comes from knowing that being very nice and placing other people’s needs on the same level as your own will get you everything you want.
My recent exploration on leadership and collaboration led me to a recent study conducted at Harvard University on the power of nice or, more specifically, the incentive value of cooperation. A post last week at the Freakonomics blog brought the research to my attention.

In the study, the Prisoner's Dilemma was posed between participants. The Prisoner's Dilemma is the game theory situation that forces a choice between cooperating or betraying another player. Think of any episode of "Law and Order" on television where police detectives pit one suspect against another suspect to gain a confession or incrimination.

The Harvard study, added financial incentives or disincentives for every choice, whether, cooperation or punishment. The study's results showed a negative correlation between punishment and high payoff. This is summarized with the notion that nice and cooperation pays and winners don't punish. The research document found in Nature states, "winners do not use costly punishment, whereas losers punish and perish"

I have a tendency to respond, "So, what's new?" This is not new information. As the wise say, "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar." Nevertheless, the research provides useful validation and public attention. The Associated Press news release on the research was titled, "It Pays To Play Nice." Check out how many news sources picked up the story with this Google search.

Thanks for reading. Please lead quietly and be nice.

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